‘Whoever sheds Man’s Blood, by Man his Blood shall be shed’: The Mandatory Death Penalty and the Enlightenment in Lutheran Europe

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The penalty for manslaughter differed considerably in early modern Europe. Whereas you could get off with being branded on the thumb in Anglican England, and minor punishments in Catholic countries, the death penalty was the ordinary punishment in Lutheran and Reformed countries. The reason for this severe practice was the belief that God demanded the executions, and that God would punish those countries which did not respect the divine law. In the eighteenth century however the mandatory death penalties came under pressure, and in the last half of the century the states found ways to avoid the automatic death penalties, although the death penalty provisions remained on the statute books. This paper will examine the state internal discussions about the divinely ordained death penalties in Denmark-Norway in the eighteenth century. They took place primarily around the king’s approval or pardoning of death sentences, and they involved clerical as well as juridical and political advisers. Several strategies were used to maintain as well as to avoid the death penalty, and the proponents and opponents were found among clerics as well as jurists. The penalties were not discussed in public, but nevertheless ordinary people influenced the discussions, as suicide candidates increasingly chose to commit murders on random children in order to obtain the divinely mandated death penalty. This disturbing crime exposed the preventive futility of an automatic death penalty, and forced the Danish-Norwegian state to an early public break with the concept of the mandatory death penalty in a decree of 1767 regarding these specific murders.
Periode2 apr. 2016
BegivenhedstitelEuropean Social Sciences History Conference
PlaceringValencia, SpanienVis på kort